This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
Yesterday was one of those incredible days that seemed to stretch out to infinity as I worked on my projects and did the maintenance tasks that keep the farm running. I love these long spring days, the transition from “everything is too much and it all feels overwhelming” to “I can do all the things” has a lot to do with day length. One of my favorite things is to walk out the door in the morning with an idea of what I’m going to do, but with the time to add in extra things along the way.
When I’m open, without a clear agenda, it gives me the freedom to plan on the fly and it’s like a game to see what things I can put together. I think to myself about ways to be more efficient and I notice small things that can get done along the way. My friend calls it “random walk theory”, in which if I’m open and paying attention I’ll craft the most effective and efficient path to getting things done. I find that microdosing psilocybin is super helpful for getting into that headspace of flow and effectiveness, and I’ve been working with it for a couple of years now.
After coffee and breakfast, I started off feeding cats, dog, and rabbits, then headed to the ranch to feed pigs and laying hens. I filled waterers, distributed weeds and plant material that had been cleared during bed prep and scratched some piggy bellies. After ranch chores, I restocked the farmstand and did some cleaning of the house and vegetable packing area so things would look nice when Amber came home, and I emptied the pickup bed of the accumulation of the last few days of tools, cardboard for bed prep, buckets and other odds and ends.
I opened the hoophouses, watered the propagation house and shifted trays that had begun to germinate out of the germination chamber. I cleaned old pots and debris out of the prop house to make more room and less clutter, and moved large bok choy starts out onto the hardening off table for planting soon.
After a snack, a couple tokes and some coffee, I embarked on the main project for the day. Our farm is steeply sloped, and we’ve terraced our beds over the years to make flat planting spaces, but the combination of a brutal winter, wear and tear, and limits to the original design have left some of the terraces slumping and damaged.
There are three beds of about 60 feet in length that are just below the salad mix hoophouse out front. They were put in with boards and t-posts to hold up the terrace, but the number of t-posts was super inadequate and the boards had bowed out and begun to lose soil onto the lower terraces. With a late afternoon push the day before I had finished re-doing the middle terrace supports, so yesterday I began on the top row supports.
First, I dug out the soil from the slumped areas, putting it back up onto the bed surface. I cut tall t-posts in half with an angle grinder and drove them in with the gas powered t-post pounder; both of these machines are newer in my repertoire, neither were available when the terraces were first built. Their additional oomph gave me capacity to install t-post chunks every 3 feet, providing plenty of support for the reconstructed retaining wall.
This is the kind of job I love; making use of existing materials and scavenging from around the farm to fill in gaps. It’s kind of a new experience for me to find myself willing to take the time necessary to do the job in a measured, thorough manner. Most of the time I’m rushing through projects to get to the next thing because I’ve set expectations too high for myself, and it’s been a long process of trying to break this habit, and yesterday was a great success in this realm.
I buttoned up the work on the terrace, pleased with the results, and used the angle grinder to cut off some t-posts that had been used as a retaining wall for straw bales between two hoophouses. The straw bales decomposed, and the t-posts were left about 18 inches tall and dangerous during the snow events this winter, so it felt good to get them cut down.
I broke for lunch about 2 o’clock, then went to the ranch for afternoon chores, feeding, gathering eggs and filling waters. The little boars had flipped their tub, indicating they needed water for wallowing, which is the first time that it’s been warm enough for that to happen. After chores, I gathered irrigation parts from my brother’s, checked the farmstand again and headed back to my place.
Irrigation can be a peaceful joy, or a frustrating drudge depending on state of mind and available parts. Yesterday I had all the pieces I needed, all on my handy harvest cart that my friend Michiel fabricated for me. I replaced mini-wobblers in two hoophouses with the bigger wobblers that throw more water, then used the 8 minis to build a new system for the three terraces I’d been repairing.
The new system came out beautifully, metal stakes against the retaining wall of the terrace so the sprinklers and mainline are out of the way of the path and the beds, low enough that they don’t throw much beyond the beds, and enough of them to get good coverage. I added three more sprinklers into a system I built the day before that needed better coverage, watered the prop house again and got ready to plant onions with the paperpot transplanter.
Last year it took 4 of us several hours to plant onions and shallots. Yesterday, I planted nearly a thousand starts in about an hour in the middle terrace, shored up well with wider bed space because of the sturdy retaining wall. I got 10 rows in, and watered them in with the new sprinkler system. It was the culmination of a long day, one of the most successful I can remember, and left me buoyed by the hopefulness of spring. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!